It didn't even take the opening credits for me to immerse myself in this endearing, surprisingly sweet world being created by writer/director Rob Zombie in The Munsters, a PG-rated affectionate revisit of sorts to these characters who were first introduced to America in a 1964 sitcom that lasted a mere two seasons.
The Munsters is a bit of a cinematic risk for Zombie, a filmmaker more known for his blood-drenched horror outings than for anything resembling this genuinely family friendly fare that is unabashedly sentimental and completely unashamed of its inherent goofiness. However, Zombie hasn't gone twisted on us like those folks creating a Pooh-based horror films. The film is also a low-budget risk with a reported $5 million budget, so even if it doesn't quite live up to its expectations it's a nostalgic curiosity that I have no doubt audiences will visit again and again.
Not at all.
The Munsters really is a genuinely entertaining family film, a silly sort of semi-prequel to the television version of The Munsters and a film that you can't help but wonder if it taps into some sort of autobiographical vein courtesy of its strange but impossibly compelling love story between Lily (Sheri Moon Zombie) and Herman (Jeff Daniel Phillips).
The Munsters is a sublime film for the Halloween season, the PG-rating easily justifiable with innocence galore even in those brief moments when you think Zombie might toss in a little gore. For the record, he doesn't. While there are a couple naughty jokes, they'll fly over the kiddos heads and they'll be too enthralled by this neon-colored spectacle to even notice.
The story, which is for the most part irrelevant as was true for the sitcom, centers around how Lily and Herman came to fall in love and find their home on Hollywood's Mockingbird Lane. The moment when Lily eyeballs Herman inside a divey Transylvanian joint being some sort of punk rocker is absolutely inspired. I've always loved Sheri Moon Zombie, but it's in this scene and many others that she seems to inhabit the soul of Lily. The same is true for Jeff Daniel Phillips, who captures Herman's good-hearted but bumbling nature and you can't help but fall in love with him from moment one.
The truth is that Rob Zombie has always been a risk-taking filmmaker, a difficult to peg visionary even when it seemed like nihilism was his preferred form of communication. If you're watching, Zombie has always had something more to say. It's just most are so bathed in his gore-ific imagery that it's hard to get the core of the world that Zombie creates.
Trust me, The Munsters has a place in the Zombie universe even if it's unlikely to please Zombie's traditional gorehounds and it's also unlikely to please The Munsters purists. While I kind of understand not pleasing the gorehounds, The Munsters purists need to turn off the blinders and be ecstatic. The Munsters is a damn fine film.
Daniel Roebuck, a Zombie regular, is a joy as The County, also known as Grandpa. Zombie even gives us a gift from one episode Munsters character Lester (Tomas Boykin), Lily's werewolf brother. Richard Brake, another Zombie regular, has so much fun here that I nearly felt like I'd stepped into the Rocky Horror set. As Dr. Henry August Wolfgang, Brake is a complete and utter joy.
I'm not sure I ever expected to use the word "joy" alongside Richard Brake.
I have a feeling that Rob Zombie made exactly the film that he wanted to make, a film both lovingly celebrating The Munsters as a creative sitcom force and a film that also celebrates how The Munsters inspired Zombie himself. I have a feeling that Zombie sees himself here and I fell in love with Zombie's love for this material that comes to life in every frame. Visually inventive and infused with goofy charm, The Munsters deserves to become a new Halloween tradition.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic